Why do so many scientists believe that life resulted from unintelligent natural processes if such is not the case? The short answer is that self-deception is a powerful force in human psychology. But the capacity for a group of people to deceive itself is actually much greater than the capacity of an individual to deceive himself. This is why it is so crucial for one to actually examine the facts at hand, rather than uncritically (and lazily) accept the majority opinion of a group of academics such as scientists. As the great Harvard University paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science Stephen J. Gould put it:
“Unconscious or dimly perceived finagling is probably endemic in science, since scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth.”
Biologist Lynn Margulis (winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal for Science), echoes Gould’s above comments about the tendency of scientists to uncritically accept the views of like-minded individuals, in an interview with journalist Susan Mazur for The Altenberg 16: An Expose of the Evolution Industry:
“People are always more loyal to their tribal group than to any abstract notion of ‘truth’ – scientists especially. If not they are unemployable. It is professional suicide to continually contradict one’s teachers or social leaders.”
Groupthink is a powerful distorter of truth
A New York Times article titled Insights Into Self-Deception elaborates on how groups of people are particularly prone to self-deception (more so than individuals):
Such orchestrated self-deceptions were at work, for example, among the group that planned the Bay of Pigs invasion. Irving L. Janis, a psychologist at Yale University, studied in detail how the plans were laid for that fiasco. It was a textbook case of the collective defenses that Janis has called ”groupthink.”
Essentially, when groupthink is at work, group members hobble their seeking of information in order to preserve a cozy unanimity. Loyalty to the group requires that no one raise embarrassing questions, nor attack weak arguments, nor counter soft-headed thinking with hard facts. ”The more amiable the esprit de corps among the members of a policy-making group,” Janis has observed, ”the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink.” Looking back, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was then on the White House staff, observed how the meetings in which the Bay of Pigs plan took shape went on ”in a curious atmosphere of assumed consensus.”
Yet, he suspects that had a single person voiced a strong objection, President Kennedy would have canceled the plan. No one spoke up. In a post-mortem, Theodore Sorenson, who had been special counsel to President Kennedy, concluded that ”doubts were entertained but never pressed, partly out of a fear of being labeled ‘soft’ or undaring in the eyes of their colleagues.” The rationalization, erroneous, as it turned out, that there would be a mass uprising against Castro once the invasion began, kept the group from contemplating such devastating information as the fact that Castro’s army outnumbered the invading force by more than 140 to one.
Can life emerge from non-life unintelligently?
Are atheists correct that unintelligent natural processes are capable of producing life from non-living matter? Or does this belief result from groupthink similar to the flawed rationale which resulted in the Bay of Pigs invasion? Grab a bag of popcorn. In this episode of Atheist Myth Busters, we are going to examine this question:
By taking a look at the world around, to observe how natural processes actually work, one can confidently arrive at an answer to this question. Without external effort to counteract natural forces, sooner or later, your clean room will get dirty, your body will age, your car will break down, your clothes will wear out, etc. This tendency of natural processes to produce disorder from order (as we all observe on a daily basis) is an aspect of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
But the famed atheist biologist Richard Dawkins suggests that it is reasonable to believe that life could have emerged from non-living matter as a result of unintelligent natural processes, because natural processes occasionally create order from disorder. Since a monkey randomly banging on a typewriter could eventually produce the works of Shakespeare, unintelligent natural processes could eventually produce life from non-living matter, suggests Dawkins…just give it enough time. In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes:
“I don’t know who it was first pointed out that, given enough time, a monkey bashing away at random on a typewriter could produce all the works of Shakespeare. The operative phrase is, of course, given enough time.”
Atheists must ignore the elephant in the room
With regards to Dawkins’ above typing monkey illustration, he fails to notice the elephant in the room. It is possible for unintelligent processes to produce order from disorder, but only on a temporary basis. A monkey banging away on a keyboard may eventually randomly type some of the correct letters of a sentence from one of Shakespeare’s plays. But in order for a full sentence (let alone a full Shakespeare play) to be typed randomly by a monkey, correctly typed letters must be preserved once they are typed. Unfortunately, unintelligent natural processes perform no such preservation. Further, preserving correctly typed letters requires a knowledge of what constitutes a correctly typed letter. Unintelligent natural possess no such knowledge. Dean Overman points out this fatal flaw of Dawkins’ atheist reasoning in A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization:
Richard Dawkins constructs a failed analogy in his book The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins understands the odds against chance as the sole cause of life and presupposes that the process of natural selection determines the “correct” letters which the monkey preserves. However, for the monkey to preserve the correct letters in the sequence requires an assumed intelligence apart from and greater than the intelligence of the monkey. This intelligence must have knowledge of the letters which construct a meaningful sentence.
Without such an intelligence, no principle exists for deciding which letters should be preserved. Natural selection does not qualify as such an intelligence, because it is a process, not something like an intelligent mind which knows the alphabet and the structure of a meaningful sentence. Dawkins cannot have it both ways. He cannot logically assert that a process without the characteristics of a mind has the characteristics of a mind and the knowledge required to “know” which letters to preserve. Such an assertion fails because it assumes a self-contradiction. Cadit quaestio. [Latin for “the case is closed”]”
In open systems such as the Earth, wind blowing the sand on a beach may temporarily organize sand into orderly ridges, for example. But there is a big problem with asserting that this is evidence that natural processes can create life from non-life: The same natural processes which created this order will more quickly destroy it.
The work of the famous chemist Ilya Prigogine is often cited by atheists as evidence that life could have “self-organized’ from non-living matter. Prigogine points to such phenomena as ridges in sand emerging from random energy flows (wind) as evidence that matter can “self-organize” into living things.
Similarly, the famous Miller-Urey experiments (scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey) from the 1950’s are frequently cited by atheists as evidence for “abiogenesis,” or the belief that unintelligent natural processes could have produced life from non-living matter. These experiments are alleged to demonstrate that unintelligent natural events, such as flashes of electricity from lightning strikes, could cause chemical reactions which synthesized complex organic compounds from more simple inorganic precursors. Atheists then extrapolate from this apparent unintelligent emergence of order to the belief that life emerged as a result of unintelligent processes.
But what maintains order?
But the philosophical conclusion that natural processes can create life from non-life can only be reached by ignoring the same elephant in the room which Richard Dawkins ignores: What maintains this order once it is produced?
Dr. W.M. DeJong studied Mathematics and Thermodynamics at the University of Technology in Delft, The Netherlands. He is consultant and researcher of innovation and change at INI-Consult. Dr. DeJong points out the fatal blind spots of extrapolating life emerging “naturally” by citing the research of scientists such as Prigogine and Miller-Urey:
“Ilya Prigogine has shown that ridges in the sand can emerge by random energy flows; but he overlooked that these ridges are not maintained by these random energy flows; the next day they disappear again and are replaced by other ridges in another direction. Prigogine has also shown that living nature is constantly transforming molecules, cells and organisms into more complex structures; but he overlooked that this ordering is driven by the DNA program present in any cell, and not by random energy flows.”
“In the chemical industry simple molecules are transformed into complicated molecules by directed energy flows, not by random natural processes. If random, natural processes would be able to turn chaos into order, complicated molecules would become available for free; all energy problems on earth would be solved and the chemical industry would be out of business.”
And, as DeJong points out, it was actually an intelligent agent (Stanley Miller himself) who applied directed external effort to preserve the order temporarily produced by the natural processes involved in the Miller-Urey experiments. But self-deception and ideological blindness prevents atheists from recognizing this:
“Secondly, order that emerges from undirected external forces not only has a temporary character, but does not expand, unless directed external effort is supplied. This law of nature is clearly illustrated by the famous Miller experiment. Random flashes of electricity can turn basic organic substances into the building blocks of DNA. But the next moment, new flashes may destroy these building blocks. The larger the building blocks, the faster they will be destroyed again. Therefore, Miller transported the building blocks formed towards a distillation flask, sheltering them from destruction by new flashes of lightning, resulting into the production of a more and more concentrated organic soup. Miller’s experiment confirms the second law, and shows that the order in a system can only be maintained and increased by directed external effort.”
“It is often supposed that organic molecules have a natural bias to order themselves into increasingly complex structures. It is thought that if an advantage fluctuation of chaos arises, the molecules will move to a nearby, higher and maintained level of order; after some time, a subsequent advantageous fluctuation of chaos will arise and another a step of increasing order will be set; et cetera. More accurate assessment of this line of thought, which is handed by Miller and Prigogine, shows, however, that (1) the emergence of order in chaotic systems is only temporary; (2) the maintenance and further expansion of the order that may emerge in chaotic systems demands directed external effort; and (3) the chaotic processes in living nature that sometimes are turned into order are strongly influenced by the DNA programs of the organisms involved.”
As with the Bay of Pigs invasion, groupthink prevents a like-minded group of people from perceiving the glaring logical flaws of “abiogenesis,” such as those which DeJong alludes to above.